Thursday, April 23, 2009

Elections in South Africa

Yesterday, April 22nd marked South Africa's 4th free, democratic election. Ever since we got to the country we've been hearing and talking about it,it's a bit hard to believe it actually happened. You may have heard a few years ago about the scandal surrounding Jacob Zuma, a top official in the ANC(The African National Congress, Nelson Mandela's party). He was accused of raping a family friend who happened to be HIV positive. When asked what he did to prevent himself from getting HIV he respond "I took a shower", prompting this caricature:

Although he was cleared of those charges many still believe he did rape her and that he got off easy.

And yet,he was the ANC's presidential candidate. Before I talk any more about my experiences with the election I think it'd be a good idea to explain the political system here,I don't think I've done it before. If I have,I apologize. Ok so there is a parliament of 400 members plus the president. Parties run for national office with a list of 400 people that they would put in parliament if they won all the seats. The party that gets the greatest majority of votes (has been the ANC since 1994) puts the person who is at the top of their list in as president,and the people following them get ministry positions,etc. The seats in Parliament are divided up based on the percentages each party gets. If the ANC gets 60% of the vote, for example, they get 60% of the seats in Parliament in addition to the seat of the president. I think it's a pretty cool system-no one party wins or loses, they mostly all get a spot in government. So when you go to cast your ballot you don't vote for a candidate,you vote for a party. Jacob Zuma is the ANC's #1 on their list of 400.

Ok,so most of what we've heard since being here is that Zuma is a scumbag but that a majority of the population is still voting for the ANC. The people on my program have gotten really upset about this, saying they don't understand how people can still be voting for someone who's been accused of rape and corruption(was recently acquitted of those charges -i think that's the right word). The Americans seem to have an extremely hard time separating the man - Zuma - from the party- the ANC. While I think Zuma is a total scumbag who doesn't deserve to be in government, I think the policies of the ANC are great,and I can understand how many people still want to vote for him, despite these things. There are quite a few opposition parties: the DA (mostly an Afrikaaner/Colored party that some say is the remnants of the National Party-the party that created and enforced Apartheid), COPE (Congress of the People, new in this election, old ANC supporters who don't believe the ANC is accomplishing what they are promising, many young people are supporting this party), the ID, the UDM,the IDF, etc. There's a ton of acronyms that I honestly can't remember at the moment. The DA, ANC & COPE are the biggest players in electoral politics in this election.

Ever since we got here there have been posters from all of the political parties lining the streets and it's all anyone can talk about. Most of our families in Langa & Tshabo supported the ANC although quite a few of the people my age support COPE. In Stellenbosch and Bo Kaap most people are supporting the DA. In Durban we met a lot of students who said they weren't voting at all because they knew the ANC was going to win,so what use is it voting for other parties.

Last night we had a party to celebrate the election and a few people in my apartment (I woke say who...this was illegal), went out and cut down signs from each of the parties. These are huge cardboard signs that are on every lamppost. We decorated our apartment with them and had people over to watch the election coverage,which, I'm happy to report, is nowhere near as crazy as in the US. By the end of the night I was feeling quite pessimistic,an odd feeling for me. I realized that presidential elections depress me. There is so much energy and community activism leading up to them but then once the people are in office, that tends to peter off, and people will complain but not necessarily work to change things until the next election. This isn't everybody, or every election,but it's depressing none-the-less. I think South Africa is like that,but not to as great an extent as the US. In fact the homeless people's organizations in the townships around Cape Town and Johannesburg staged "one house,one vote" campaigns where they refused to vote until the government agreed to move them in to the empty housing or creating housing opportunities for them. An interesting situation.

Whew, I wrote a lot about the election. Hopefully that gives you all a better idea of what the political climate is like here. Pictures to come later. As far as my research goes, it's been moving pretty slowly. I've been not feeling so great lately-my food issues are acting up, so I've been trying to lie low. In addition, the fact that election day was a national holiday made it a bit hard to set up interviews for this week. But this afternoon I'm meeting with a woman from University of Western Cape who is working on a program doing research on domestic workers and I hopefully have an interview set up with COSATU - one of the national labor federations. They won't be able to meet with me until may 4th, which is 1 day before I wanted to take my paper to be printed,but it's an interview none the less and I'm looking forward to it.

Oh,before I forget,we don't know the election results yet,but I'll let you all know when we do. The Western Cape (where I am) is likely to be the only Provence that doesn't go ANC...should be interesting!
That's more than enough for now,enjoy!


  1. Dearest Lila,
    Very interesting comments. I've been looking forward to your take on the elections. It was the subject of an extensive piece on OPB. Their conclusion was that many people still believed in the magic of the ANC, and felt that the party might yet have something to offer the country.
    We love you, we miss you. We're looking forward to your homecoming -- knowing that you'll race down to Corvallis, but we hope to see you on the bounce, when OSU finals are over. Max has a firm Oregonian health insurance appointment for Sat., June 12 at 2pm downtown. Maybe a gathering of the clan that evening for dinner at the restaurant of your choice????? It's possible that a surprise guest may attend.
    Love you!

  2. Mignon,
    Oh,I wish I could do dinner then but I will be in New Orleans from June 9th-June 16th. Perhaps when I return?

  3. We will see you then! Safe travels.